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FAA Directive Orders Repairs To Engines On Some 787s

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Icing issues on certain models of the General Electric engines on Boeing 787 Dreamliners led to FAA to issue directive to “urgently modify” those engines.

According to a directive issued Friday by the Federal Aviation Agency directive, the engines on Boeing 787 Dreamliners must be “urgently modified.” The General Electric engine model GEnx-1B PIP2 is in question. Planes that are equipped with both engines of that model could potentially experience a catastrophic loss of both engines in flight.

The FAA directive says in part of its directive:

“The urgency of this issue stems from the safety concern over continued safe flight and landing for airplanes that are powered by two GEnx-1B PIP2 engines operating in a similar environment to the event airplane. In this case both GEnx-1B PIP2 engines may be similarly damaged and unable to be restarted in flight. The potential for common cause failure of both engines in flight is an urgent safety issue.”

Airlines have until the first week of October to fix the problem. A directive has been issued to pilots of 787s with those model engines to follow a new in-flight ice-removal procedure. That procedure says when ice buildup above 12,500 feet is suspected or if an indicator light confirms it, pilots are advised to rev each engine at 85 percent of full throttle every five minutes.

A Jan. 29 incident heightened the urgency for the FAA directive. A Japan Airlines (JAL) 787 shut down in midair and couldn’t be restarted. The right engine failed about 90 miles from Tokyo’s Narita Airport on a flight from Vancouver, B.C. The pilots were able to land with one engine. The 787’s other engine was an older model and the FAA said the left engine incurred only “minor damage during the icing event and continued to operate normally.”

The report on the JAL incident said that ice had built up on the fan blades before the trouble occurred. The engine model had been upgraded (and certified by the FAA) and the newer version had reduced a tiny gap between the fan blades and the engine case. The JAL plane’s engine experienced ice breaking loose, causing the fan blades to rub against the case and causing a shut down. The engine could not be restarted.

The FAA did not issue an “emergency” directive but because of the danger to the flying public, action will be immediate. The FAA reported that the problem affects 176 Dreamliners at 29 airlines; that’s about 44 percent of the worldwide fleet.

GE has altered the manufacturing process of the PIP2 engine model to increase the fan-tip clearance. GE spokesman Rick Kennedy said rework on about 40 airplanes has been completed. He added that the work to modify the engines takes about 16 hours and can be completed without removing the engines from the wings.

Twin-engine jets have taken over the commercial aviation industry. The newest birds, particularly those manufactured by Boeing, feature GE engines that are touted for their fuel efficiency, thrust and reliability.

And reliability is crucial when an aircraft jam packed with passengers is reliant on two engines. When both are disabled it takes a miracle like the one conjured up by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in 2009. His calm maneuvering saved 155 passengers by guiding US Airways Flight 1549 to a crash landing in the Hudson River. Both engines on the Airbus A320 were disabled by colliding with a flock of geese.

You can read the FAA document about the engine issue here.

Written by Wendell Barnhouse

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.